Nissan is shifting more than gears with the upcoming launch of an all-new Pathfinder sport-utility vehicle.
The popular SUV will migrate from a traditional body-on-frame design to a lighter, more fuel-efficient unibody design that should help the Nissan offering stay on track with its primary domestic offerings. Both the Ford Explorer and Jeep Grand Cherokee migrated to crossover designs when they were redesigned for the 2011 model-year.
The challenge, Nissan officials acknowledged, during a Detroit Auto Show preview, is to attract new buyers who see crossover/utes as a stylish alternative to the minivan while not alienating traditional truck buyers who want a vehicle that can tackle anything it faces.
“The key for us was making sure this was still perceived as a real SUV with the capabilities Pathfinder was known for,” said Tom Smith, Nissan’s truck and crossover marketing chief.
The model on display in Detroit is just a “concept,” in this case, a thinly disguised version of the production Pathfinder Nissan will show off a couple months from now. As a result, a number of details have yet to be finalized, such as the displacement and power of the V-6 engine the new ute will get.
But towing capacity should be only slightly down from current capacity, which means the next Pathfinder will still be able to pull a pop-up camper and most boats, if not a 30-foot trailer, hinted Rich Miller, Nissan’s senior manager of truck planning.
The move to a crossover platform should result in significant improvements in ride and handling, he added, while also helping the maker achieve as much as 25% better mileage than the current 16 mpg Combined.
Part of the process was trimming about 500 pounds of weight, Nissan making “light-weighting” a major corporate goal.
Another move to improve fuel efficiency is the adoption of a new CVT transmission, rather than a conventional automatic. That’s something Nissan has popularized in its passenger car range in recent years,
The 2013 Pathfinder will offer an on-demand four-wheel-drive system. But it will no longer feature a low-range favored by serious off-roaders.
While initial plans call for the use of a single V-6, Miller hinted that Nissan is looking at “other options.” These include the possibility of going with a hybrid powertrain or a diesel. That was something that the maker might not have considered a few years ago when selling diesels in the U.S. was “like pushing water uphill,” he said, but with German makers gaining traction for the technology and Jeep ready to offer a diesel on its Grand Cherokee next year, Miller added that this is a subject worth revisiting.
The new Pathfinder will now provide room for seven full-size adults, expanding the cramped room available in the third row of the outgoing ute, insisted Miller – though there was no way to tell from the non-running show car on display, as it doesn’t have a functional interior.
Nor could his promise of a markedly upgraded interior, with more features and more lavish materials be checked first hand. One of the new surprise-and-delight features Nissan promises for the 2013 Pathfinder will be a system designed to improve third-row access.
The launch of the new Pathfinder will come as part of a wave of new offerings from Nissan, with models including the Sentra and Altima getting updates later this year.
The strategy is critical for the Asian maker, the only one of the Japanese Big Three to come through the production shortages caused by last year’s earthquake and tsunami with an increase in sales and market share.
CEO Carlos Ghosn says he believes that Nissan can build on that momentum with new product and even suggested, during an auto show appearance, that the next-generation Altima could pass traditional rivals Toyota Camry and Honda Accord to become the leader in the critical midsize segment.